What story does your audit statement tell?

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In the past, when I've had to teach people how to read an audit statement, I would tell them, “The audit statement tells the story of your subscribers — who they are and where they came from.” For years, sales people have relied on an audit statement to make the case that their magazine is the best place for marketers to reach buyers in the industry. Companies strived to have the most subscribers, with the best demographics, along with the highest number of records in the one year direct request column. A strong circulation statement could always stand up to scrutiny and was the best way to measure circulation quality.

But as we all know, things have changed. Circulation is now audience development and the term “subscriber” doesn't always apply. People no longer need to receive our print magazine to engage with our brand, and a one year direct request name is no longer the best measure of an engaged audience member. Our print products require us to collect data and identify subscribers because we can't deliver the product without that information, but our digital products measure readership and engagement. 

Today there are many measures of an engaged audience beyond basic Web traffic and print subscription statistics. How many people subscribe to and read your newsletters? How many people attend your events? What about webinars and podcasts? What about reader preference research?

The enormous task that we're faced with in audience development is to quantify and define the total audience, so we're building massive databases that house every file we have. We're measuring engagement by determining not only which members of our audience are receiving multiple products, but by how often they read them. We're allowing companies to post our digital editions on their company intranet instead of requiring individual requests.

Does the traditional audit statement tell the story of our new audience, or is it still only telling the story of our print subscribers? Is this partial view of the audience enough information for marketers to use to make a buying decision?  It may be time to change how we tell the story and write a new chapter.

Heidi Spangler is the director of circulation and audience development for Questex Media. Reach her at hspangler@questex.com.

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